Recently I finished Marvel’s Spider-Man and it’s the first game in months I found deeply relaxing to play. Much like the last title to do so, I slipped into something of a Zen state with this game, my troubles evaporating as I did.
There are many aspects of Marvel’s Spider-Man’s gameplay I found relaxing and satisfying but standing above them all is the web swinging. I could spend hours just swinging around Manhattan, skimming the ground, or reaching for high altitude before diving and resuming the swing at full speed. I could run up a building and push myself into another swing or pick one of the many avenues and streets in this grid-like city and just go and see where they took me.
Part of this is that I’ve been to Manhattan a couple of times in my life and it was a joy to see familiar locations beautifully rendered and most importantly, alive. There are people walking, running, commuting and going about their business as you move around them. Manhattan in Marvel’s Spider-Man is a living city, not just a simple sandbox with quest-givers and enemies and that just made the immersion and the deep relaxation even stronger.
The other part is something I mentioned when I spoke of my experience with Hob, and it’s something I felt recently with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, the sheer and pure joy of exploration. Seeing the map fill out as you traverse the environment, uncovering secrets hidden from view, finding that one spot in Manhattan or Ancient Greece where I can stand and look over a beautiful landscape, with James Earl Jones’ voice saying, “Everything the light touches, Simba, is our kingdom,” in my head.
Usually, combat and actions scenes would make me lose that deep state of, well, chill, but in Marvel’s Spider-Man there is a flow to the combat, a rhythm in the conflict that much like the web swinging, put me in a groove as soon as a fight broke out or my swinging organically took me to a crime in progress and if I was good enough, I could zip in, take out the culprits, save the innocents and be back to my swinging without ever stopping, bringing the action closer to that core zen gaming experience. In doing so, fighting and solving crimes, stopping cars and saving kittens wasn’t a break from moving around the city but an extension of it.
The quest of the hidden photo-ops enriched the experience so much. I had an excuse to just go around Manhattan, covering it in a grid search-pattern looking for places where I needed to take a photo of something, and since the core of my zen experience with this title is in the continuous movement and momentum, I did my best to take the photos in mid-air between swings. I failed sometimes, but when I nailed them, it just felt great to hear Peter congratulate himself—and me—for the excellent composition of the photo I took in between a backflip and hitting the web shooter.
The constant motion might be the most important aspect of my zen gaming with Marvel’s Spider-Man but it’s not all. I’m an adventure gamer at heart, and I find true joy in solving puzzles—and have recently been playing the Myst 25th Anniversary games, famous for their hardcore puzzling. The circuit boards, chemical analyses and even the stealth takedown sections provided ample opportunities to just sit back, relax, and take things easy, solving the riddles they put in front of me.
There are DLC coming soon for Marvel’s Spider-Man and it gives me what little excuse I need to once again jump into the tight Spidey suit, fling my web at the nearest building and kick-off a new web swinging session, which I’m sure will do me wonders in terms of just relaxing me and letting the joy of exploration take me.